Run (2020)

Run (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Aneesh Chaganty

Cast: Sarah Paulson, Kiera Allen, Pat Healy, Erik Athavale, Sara Sohn, BJ Harrison

A homeschooled teenager begins to suspect her mother is keeping a dark secret from her. – IMDB

There always seems to be this focus on mother-daughter relationships and a fascination on these movies being chosen by Netflix (thinking back to the sci-fi Netflix film, I Am Mother (review)). Run focuses its main premise around a teenager, Chloe and her mom, Diane. Chloe is a girl that survived at birth but is ridden with a full bill of medical issues from asthma to being paralyzed in her legs. Despite that, she looks forward to her freedom when she gets to finally leave home and go to college however, its then that she starts something suspicious of her mom and starts to look deeper into it.

The movies focus on the two main characters and the build-up of how their relationship evolves over the course of the film is done fairly well. Plus, it also sees each of these characters’ development. All these are definitely strengths of the film especially when it gives the mom character played by the talented Sarah Paulson, who showed us how creepy she can be when she was in Netflix show, Ratched. Paired up with a younger actress Keira Allen, who does hold her own. The two play well off of each other. The scope of the film really is a focus on 2 characters and their confined life and routine that it actually makes it all the more engaging to watch how Chloe will react when she realizes the secrets and the changes she goes through.

The script isn’t exactly completely original as the twist doesn’t feel as shocking as it probably could be. There are some subtle creepy moments which was probably given away if you saw the trailer, and that’s something that I dislike about Netflix when its a highlighted film and just plays the trailer on its own. The trailer gives a lot of the movie away perhaps that’s why it feels not as exciting as it should be. However, thanks to these two characters and how they are scripted, the movie does have its own tension especially as things do ramp up in a decently-paced manner. Actually the movie sets up the norm of this family rather quickly and then sets up the suspicion and kicks things off from that point on rather quickly. It all comes to a rather intense ending especially when we look at the final ending which is one that is pretty good and has decent shock value.

Overall, as I think back to Run, the movie is at its best when the characters are playing off each other. There is no doubt that Sarah Paulson’s acting and grasp of her character is fantastic. It creates this dreading feeling that she is always watching which makes everything Chloe does to figure out the mystery feel even more tense especially with all her medical issues. Despite some of these ideas feeling slightly familiar, Run is still a decent well-paced psychological thriller that is still well worth a watch.

Double Feature: Eighth Grade (2018) & Tramps (2016)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time, I’ve paired up the 2018 coming of age teen movie Eighth Grade and the 2016 romance/comedy Netflix film, Tramps. Let’s check it out!

Eighth Grade (2018)

Director (and writer): Bo Burnham

Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Daniel Zolghadri, Fred Hechinger, Luke Prael, Catherine Oliviere

An introverted teenage girl tries to survive the last week of her disastrous eighth grade year before leaving to start high school. – IMDB

Being in high school is hard. Between feeling invisible and trying to fit in and still being yourself, Kayla (Elsie Fisher) runs her own Youtube channel where there aren’t a lot of viewers but she talks about how to fit in and the many issues of being a teenager in high school without actually really knowing what she’s talking about as her persona in her Youtube is rather opposite from her real life situation as the film fits those parallels rather well. Its how the story is executed using her real life and how she shares her thoughts on almost a textbook version of how to face issues in high school or teenager that builds up her character really well. Adding in the relationship that she has with her dad where she’s rather annoyed at times or reluctant to share her thoughts with him, the teenage girl character is very believable. What also works well is the subtlety of the teenage girl’s change as she encounters different situations that as a coming of age story, gives her a revelation but not before having some kind of emotional “meltdown”. That scene being probably one of the most powerful in the film.

With that said, Elsie Fisher delivers a wonderful role. Being able to carry a lot of the movie especially since her introverted personality does make this film centered a lot around her actions and decisions plus what she says to those around her in order to try to be more accepted or noticed. As she moves through being forced to go to parties that is invited by a parent or trying to get the attention of the boy that she likes by pretending or trying to open herself up more to the other girls in the grade to hopefully earn their friendship, her story is a lot more sad as the whole movie almost feels like not much happens and yet while nothing happens, Kayla goes through a lot of change from her reaction or her emotions and the way she talks or ever communicates with her dad. Its such a well-crafted character that I really connected with (especially since I was also an introverted teenage girl once).

Prior to this film, I’ve only seen a couple of Bo Burnham’s stand-up comedy show which I do enjoy his humor especially since he is younger so the bits are more related to a younger perspective. With Eighth Grade, the script and directing is pretty good overall. In many ways, it does capture the teenage life and to have it unravel over a week as Kayla gets ready to end eighth grade for high school, it almost is relatable to moving from high school to college for us as our middle school to high school didn’t include a graduation ceremony. It does have a rather satisfying ending especially as she starts being able to face up to those who don’t respect her and befriend those who seem to be more worth her time. In some ways, Eighth Grade does feel a little different to how a lot of coming of age films are and yet perhaps because it feels almost a little more subtle and quiet that the moments at the end do pack a punch.

Tramps (2016)

Director (and writer): Adam Leon

Cast: Callum Turner, Grace Van Patten, Michal Vondel, Mike Birbiglia, Margaret Colin, Louis Cancelmi

A young man and woman find love in an unlikely place while carrying out a shady deal. – IMDB

One day adventures (or even compact in a weekend) between two characters are probably one of my favorite types of films. The best example would be movies like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist which takes that concept and gives a great film that takes the audience for an adventure through a city. On one hand , it creates a simple human relationship and focuses on the “chemistry” between the two characters and doesn’t overcomplicate with too many side characters other than through other dialogue or quick scenes. On the other hand, it usually has a certain “travel” through a city element as it quickly moves from one location to the next.

The premise has these two characters, Danny and Ellie being caught chasing after a wrongly swapped briefcase after an unfamiliar task goes wrong when Danny helps his brother when he held at the police station. There are some scenes with the other characters which pads out the backstory of the importance of the briefcase. The areas they explore isn’t exactly a travel heavy premise as its not landmarks (or at least I’m unfamiliar with it). Of course, it does highlight the difference of lifestyles that these two are used to versus the person they followed to find back the suitcase which is in a more upper class suburban neighborhood.

Danny and Ellie couldn’t be more different however, they both learn about their “trapped” life and how this job means for them and slowly builds trust and coordination for each other as they face each obstacle.The way these two work together are actually quite funny especially Danny’s reaction when he realizes he swapped the wrong briefcase. The interaction between the two really being a big highlight in the film. There are some comedic points that land rather well which also helps the story plus the whole execution is decently paced.

Overall, Tramps is a feel-good movie. Its simple in story, characters and execution but the two characters are charming to follow along and they do have their own sort of adventure which brings them closer together. Danny and Ellie played by Callum Turner and Grace Van Patten respectively, are definitely enjoyable. I’d definitely say that this is a hidden gem in terms of Netflix films.

Moxie (2021)

Moxie (2021)

Director: Amy Poehler

Cast: Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai, Alycia Pascual-Pena, Nico Hiraga, Sabrina Haskett, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sydney Park, Anjelika Washington, Amy Poehler, Ike Barinholtz, Marcia Gay Harden

Fed up with the sexist and toxic status quo at her high school, a shy 16-year-old finds inspiration from her mother’s rebellious past and anonymously publishes a zine that sparks a school-wide, coming-of-rage revolution. – IMDB

Adapted from the 2015 novel of the same name by Jennifer Mathieu (which I’ve never read), Moxie is a story about a group of high school girls finding their voice to speak up for the double standards faced with girls, making this a rather type of coming of age story. Its not focused particularly on love but much like other stories, its finding themselves but having the courage to also own up to their own choices, making not too different from other coming of age story in terms of execution however in its theme, it does speak clear on various real issues that girls may face in high school or as they are growing up and even has a reveal on an issue in the film that reminded me of the 2015 documentary called The Hunting Ground.

Female empowerment and the inequality that is present in many places is something that definitely needs to be addressed. In this case, empowering younger girls to speak up about their discomforts is a good place to start as they could be viewed as preys to bigger issues in the future, probably one of the strongest conversations from the film between main lead Vivian (Hadley Robinson) and Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena) as they discuss how to fit into the school by avoiding and laying low and accepting the status quo but the latter feels like there shouldn’t be a need to hide herself and just be who she is without being bothered. As a standpoint of the issue it wants to show, Moxie definitely picks a good topic and even showing it through girls teaming up to stand up for what is right and against the status quo. It all makes for some good moments in the film.

When looking at the characters though, at times it feels like there are issues of character development and possibly something that seems to affect the whole execution. Yet again, I haven’t read the source material so its all based on the movie as its own story and not an adaptation. For one, the character of Vivian, while has the right motives and a decent character development also creates some mixed feelings especially near the end when there’s a turning point which causes her character to have a certain “volcano eruption” moment. In some ways, it fits the age of her character and probably the inner struggles she has with the whole situation and just finding the courage to stand up and possibly talking before thinking. However, there’s something about her character that I haven’t quite pinpoint that seems to be a little off for myself. It might also be that the story itself feels like the flow of events is a little odd. There are some good and effective moments and even manages to gather in the different sides from different girls and their backgrounds and what holds them back. Every girl has their own story.

The movie also highlights the school environment rather well, whether its the uncomfortable teachers in face of the sensitive topic or the principal who is afraid to make certain situations too big that it affects the school reputation. This leads certain jock students to think that they can do whatever they want including making others feeling uncomfortable. Perhaps one of the things that makes this feel very close to reality is the ranking of girls or categorizing them which suitably is the catalyst of the situation. There is some props that need to be given to Patrick Schwarzenegger who does deliver a very convincing role as the “bad guy” and perfectly dislikeable.

Overall, Moxie is a good coming of age story. What works here is definitely the issue it wants to highlight and the message that it delivers. There are some issues of execution affecting a bit of the character and pacing however, the whole girl rebellion is one that definitely is worthy a watch as some of these issues in high school may carry on to bigger things and deserves to be seen. If anything, this movie has made me want to give the source material a read to see how it is similar or different.

Double Feature: Over The Moon (2020) & Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time is something of a musical double feature as we look at Netflix animated film Over The Moon and the Mamma Mia sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Let’s check it out!

Over The Moon (2020)

Directors: Glen Keane, John Kahrs

Voice Cast: Cathy Ang, John Cho, Edie Ichioka, Ruthie Ann Miles, Sandra Oh, Robert G. Chiu, Margaret Cho, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong

In this animated musical, a girl builds a rocket ship and blasts off, hoping to meet a mythical moon goddess. – IMDB

Over The Moon tells the story of a Chinese girl Fei Fei who is told the story of the Moon Goddess who takes a potion of immortality and is sent to live on the moon with her Jade Rabbit and waits for her lover there. A story that has its own different versions but has its own set of life lessons. Living with her parents who make moon cakes for a living, her life eventually falls apart when her mother is sick and eventually leaves her and her father as well a little pet bunny Bungee. Years later on Moon Festival, her father introduces her to Mrs. Zhong, a woman that will be her stepmother and Chin, a weird little boy who thinks he has the superpower to run through walls to be his stepbrother. Her father and family judge her for her belief in Chang’e and she goes to build a rocket to go to the moon which takes her a crazy journey when Chang’e and the moon isn’t all that she imagined, especially when she finds that Chin has tagged along for the ride. 

Using the legend of the Moon Goddess and a quick look at the Moon Festival as a jumping point for the story, Over The Moon’s delivers a message about moving on and family. With some colorful imaginative parts especially from the part of building the rocket and flying to the moon and the whole sequence on the moon with Chang’e and all of the moon’s occupants, it’s a fun little adventure and the studio’s take on what the Moon Goddess is doing after being sent to the moon. The animation and creativity in those sequences are pretty good but perhaps the parts of the animation with the Fei Fei’s mom at the beginning with some watercolor/Chinese painting coming to life stands out even more just based on how beautiful those scenes are executed. 

Over The Moon also has a great voice cast with John Cho, Margaret Cho, Sandra Oh and Ken Jeong even if some of the roles might be a little smaller. Fei Fei is voiced by Cathy Ang and does a pretty good job much like Chang’e is voiced by Phillipa Soo. This is a musical so the songs are pretty fun for the most part. It’s not quite as memorable as other musicals but some of the scenes are pretty nice as well. Talking about voice casts and languages, the film actually took some time for the Mandarin voice casts and script to have little changes that cater to their own audience especially with the comedic elements, which is a cool little detail seeing as this is American-Chinese but it is based on an animated film set in China. 

Overall, Over The Moon is a fun little animated film. It might not be particularly as deep and probably caters more to children with its cute little elements of Bungee and the dog on the moon Gobi and other little colorful creatures on the moon. It is rather heartwarming.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Ol Parker

Cast: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Andy Garcia, Alex Davies, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Dominic Cooper, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Hugh Skinner, Pierce Brosnan, Josh Dylan, Jeremy Irvine, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Cher, Meryl Streep

Five years after the events of Mamma Mia! (2008), Sophie prepares for the grand reopening of the Hotel Bella Donna as she learns more about her mother’s past. – IMDB

Being a fan of the first movie, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is released ten years after and its a rather good look as the characters have all gotten older as well just like Sophie and her return. In some ways, the movie does feel like a fun little jump back into the story especially for fans of the musical since they got back a lot (if not all) of the original cast of the first one and the sequel adds a little something as it fills in those pieces of the first movie, like how Donna met her three suitors and ended up with Sophie and staying on the island. For sure, its not exactly a needed story to tell but as much as I had my own doubts about it, it still has that feel-good vibe of the first film that left me really happy as I watched the musical and the musical numbers play out one by one.

With that said, one of the best things for sequels is having the original cast show up for this one. It shows the family essentially being separate but each on a different path in this future but the island and the family pulling them all back together. These characters are rather fun and charming. Fluctuating between the past and the present does add a lot of fun to it. The younger cast still manages to carry the film fairly well especially as Lily James plays the young Donna. It also comes with a cameo of Cher and Meryl Streep which is also pretty cool.

Overall, I honestly feel that Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is for the fans of the original film. If you didn’t care of it, this sequel probably will do nothing for you. While its story is fairly straight forward that you don’t really need to know the first film to catch on to the story (maybe it will hinder the relationships of the characters in the present time), its still just a feel-good musical with those fun ABBA songs. Its just a fun time for those who enjoy musicals. Plus, I really liked the Waterloo performance in those outfits at the end of the first film and they did it again for this one in a slightly different way which was also entertaining.

TV Binge: Sweet Home (Season 1, 2020)

Sweet Home (Season 1, 2020)

Creators: Lee Eung-bok, Hong So-ri, jan Young-woo, Kim Hyeong-min, Park So-hyeon

Cast: Song Kang, Lee Jin-uk, Lee Si-young, Lee Do-hyun, Kim Nam-hee, Ko Min-si, Park Kyo-young, Go Youn-jung, Kim Gap-soo, Kim Sang-ho

Following the death of his family in an accident, loner Cha Hyun Soo moves to a new apartment. His quiet life is soon disturbed by strange incidents that start occurring in his new building. As people turn into monsters, Hyun Soo and other residents try to survive. – MyDramaList

Based on the webtoon of the same name, Sweet Home takes place as the world heads into an apocalypse where humans are turning into monsters. In an apartment building, the residents suddenly are locked in and soon realize why. As they hatch their plans of defense, its not whats outside but what is trapped inside that is their concern as well as who is infected and will turn. Being at a well-paced 10 episodes, the series moves through the characters foundation and the main characters slowly have their own story unravel whether in flashbacks or in conversation. The story also progresses in the sense that survival brings out the best and worst of people, making them at times the real danger as is the desires turning into these monsters. It makes you wonder whether its based a little on Buddhism and the concept of desire making someone unable to achieve happiness and in this sense, the infected will turn into monsters, some lethal and some harmless. With that said, there are two elements at least to look at Sweet Home: the characters and the monster design.

Sweet Home’s monsters are rather varied. There isn’t an expansive understanding of how someone gets infected but the symptoms are outlined fairly clearly. The change can be rather subtle unless someone is sitting around when someone’s nose fountains with a huge nosebleed. The monsters are rather varied and at one part, it stems from desire so there are many different types of monsters whether its one that is super fast with centaur legs or a giant eye or a gooey monster or a spider looking creature and so on so forth. They all are done fairly well. There are obvious moments of CGI use and its not as smooth as it should be but overall, it does look pretty nice. The only issue I had was one of the monsters was meant to be hulking and giant with this sinister grin and to me, it felt rather hilarious. Probably not the effect that the series was looking for but the monster itself was scary for its strength and relentlessness.

There are quite a few characters in Sweet Home. A decent bunch of ragtag supporting characters which bring some comedic relief and add some uselessness that usually causes more problems plus adds to the potential body count. The few main characters go more to Hyun-so, an eighteen year old that lives alone as a playtester and constantly thinks about suicide, a medical school student brother Eun-hyeok and an aspiring ballet dancer with a foot injury sister Eun-Yoo who is in disagreement with each other, a firefighter lady Yi-Kyeong, a musician girl Ji-soo and a mystery man with burnt scars on his face Jin-wook. The story revolves around these characters as their backstories get revealed one by one. What works well here is that these characters do slowly grow as they start to differ and show their worth as the situation gets more and more dire.

Sweet Home is an interesting first season to say the least. While I have little issues with the computer effects, the monster design, the atmosphere and especially those awesome fight scenes paired with “Warrior” by Imagine Dragons really does it all great favors. At the same time, the cast of characters and their development does work really well as they form their alliances and friendships and it all comes to a decent twist by the end. If there was any issue, its that the first season sets up for a second season and yet, if it doesn’t happen, that ending might be quite a pity. Fingers crossed that it will get a second season!

To All The Boys: Always and Forever (2021)

You can check out the review of the first 2 movies of this trilogy below:

To All The Boys I’ve Love Before
To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You

To All The Boys: Always and Forever (2021)

Director: Michael Fimognari

Cast: Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish, Anna Cathcart, Ross Butler, Madeleine Arthur, Emilija Baranac, Trezzo Mahoro, Sarayu Blue, John Corbett, Henry Thomas

Continuing the romantic life of the teenage girl and facing her good and hard times with her friends and family. – IMDB

As we reach the last movie of the To All The Boys trilogy on Netflix, this is based on the third book of the trilogy of the same name. The third book is focused around Lara Jean but this time, unlike the first one where its about facing up to her feelings despite making herself vulnerable or the second book that its about choosing between two guys, this one is dials back to her as she struggles with choosing between a college that she wants to go to and the guy that she loves, worrying about the future of what might happen if she chooses one love over the other or a more suitable future over her love life, despite having to face up to changing plans and the consequences related to it. The story itself centering back to the basics of family, her future and her love life.

While its not a complete change back to its first film and lacks somewhat of the same type of charm, Always and Forever is a definite step up from the second film. However, that’s not to say that this one has some issues as well as it has a feeling piecing together montages a lot and jumping from one sequence to the next rather quickly creating a little sense of disjointedness. Where this film does carry back its fun elements is bringing back more screen time for the three sisters and the relationship they have while each also having their own sense of settling with a new situation to come with their father remarrying. There is no doubt that a big part of what works for this trilogy is the family element especially when the other sisters are charming characters along with their father.

For Lara Jean, the center back to her and her friends along with the idea of how to go for the future she wants in terms of college and think a little more about making the decision suitable for her comes into play. Of course, To All The Boys is also about Peter and Lara Jean’s relationship and there is a decent balance of it here as well especially as they each face their own insecurities about a future that might involve them being apart from each other and finding the courage and confidence to face those problems together. In some ways, for Lara Jean, its a lot about how she decides to be true to what she wants and for Peter to be able to support her choices even if it means taking a harder route for them.

To All The Boys: Always and Forever also packs in a really nice soundtrack that definitely matches with everything. There is a use of romantic comedy references which is pretty fun as well as the concept of Peter and Lara Jean’s meet-cute. The script here fills in those pieces of what hasn’t been talked about in previous two books while also tying in Lara Jean’s love for romantic comedies that makes it feel like it fits well. It also brings back a snippet of the first film’s use of having her talking to an imagined version of Peter Kavinsky as she struggles to tell him the truth behind something was misinterpreted. With that said, the charming characters of Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky as their own characters and as a couple is still one of the highlights of the film, which also makes perhaps some small little details feel very touching to watch, especially the near ending scene that is probably one of my faves and gives a nice feeling of the series coming full circle.

Overall, To All The Boys: Always and Forever is a pretty good sequel. Its a nice way to wrap up the trilogy and manages to bring everything back to a nice feeling from the first film. It addresses all the characters in Lara Jean’s circle for the most part and sees a progress throughout the time being in school and how they’ve also changed as well or made amends in other cases. Its about growing up and these characters definitely feel like they have. Its a satisfying ending and a great way to wrap up the trilogy.

The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity (晴雅集, 2020)

The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity (晴雅集, 2020)

Director (and writer): Jingming Guo

Cast: Mark Chao, Allen Deng, Olivia Wang, Duo Wang, Jessie Li, Kaicheng Xu, Chenjun Sun, Kurt Huang, Jusper

Qing Ming, the Yin-Yang Master, took his master’s last wish and went to the Captial Tiandu City to attend the heaven ceremony. – IMDB

Adapted from novel series Onmyoji written by Baku Yumemakura, The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity is a 2020 Chinese fantasy film acquired last year by Netflix before its theatrical release starring some well-known main leads Allen Deng (2018 popular drama Ashes of Love) and Mark Chao (2017 popular drama Eternal Love) and directed and written by Edward Guo, an author, director and screenwriter whose work has been adapted frequently especially his Tiny Times movie series.

Seeing as the IMDB summary is a bit vague, here’s a synopsis: The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity tells the story of Qing Ming (Mark Chao), a disciple of Zhongxing which has been put in charge of representing their sect as one of the Four Guardians to attend the ceremony to seal the Evil Serpent from breaking out of its vessel along with 3 other masters from other sects. Its here that he meets one of the other masters, Bo Ya (Allen Deng) who views the slaying of demons differently and gets off on the wrong foot. When one of the Guardians dies mysteriously before the ceremony, Princess Chang Ping (Olivia Wang) assigns a new master He Shouyue (Duo Wang) to replace him in order for the plans to carry on. As Qing Ming and Bo Ya both investigate the murder, they come to realize that there’s a much bigger plan underway that might lead to someone trying to release the Evil Serpent.

Chinese fantasy films and TV is a fairly popular genre in general. The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity is executed pretty well. Its runtime is a tad long at over 2 hours and it feels like some parts are stretched a little long but the story does have a decent complexity to carry it. Its not exactly novel in its realm and some parts are fairly predictable however, the character development and building up the foundation for these two main characters, Qing Ming and Bo Ya is done well. The movie itself has great production value especially with the cinematography which is great whether in the contrast and saturation, mood and atmosphere of each scene or the score and even the costumes. However, what deserves recognition definitely is in some well done computer effects for the monster design and movements.

While the director gets criticized a lot for his directing style, I actually quite like his style and how he films (especially after watching variety show Everybody Stand By 2) plus the story he tells has definitely grown from the beginning and he does have a lot of details in his writing and execution. There’s a definite growth from the earlier works that were adapted to this adapted screenplay of The Yin-Yang Master. Aside from that, the cast here is really great. Mark Chao and Allen Deng work really well in their respective roles. I do feel that Mark Chao’s characters are rather similar from the ones I’ve seen before while I do like Allen Deng’s Bo Ya a lot more especially with this costumes and character design whether its his weapons and such. Much like the characters specifically for this instalment like Olivia Wang and Dou Wang (who takes on two roles here). The whole concept of Spriti Guardians and their appearances especially for the design of Kaicheng Xu’s Kuang Hua Shi and the other two at the end with the characters of Killing Stone (Chenjun Sun) and Snow Dog (Jasper).

The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity was a pleasant surprise to say the very least. With a decent cast and a fairly decent twist plus some great demon/creature designs, the story packs in a lot of fantasy mixed with mystery and action. Plus, the new thing especially after the success of The Untamed definitely is adapting movies with two male leads. For this one, these two are equally good actors plus for fans of Allen Deng from Ashes of Love, its a good throwback of him in CGI wings again. Chinese fantasy films might not be for everyone but if you do like to try out something new, this one is a decent one to check out and just got released on Netflix, which is always a plus.

TV Binge: Bridgerton (Season 1, 2020)

Bridgerton (Season 1, 2020)

Creator: Chris Van Dusen

Cast: Phoebe Dynevor, Regé-Jean Page, Jonathan Bailey, Ruby Barker, Nicola Coughlan, Ruth Gemmell, Adjoa Andoh, Claudia Jessie, Luke Newton, Luke Thompson, Polly Walker, Golda Rosheuval

Wealth, lust, and betrayal set against the backdrop of Regency-era England, seen through the eyes of the powerful Bridgerton family. – IMDB

Based on Julia Quinn’s first book of the Bridgerton book series called The Duke and I, Bridgerton’s first season is like a Regency London’s era of Gossip Girl. Its scandalous and there’s a mystery lady called Lady Whistledown writing on everyone’s gossip and spreading her speculations about different situations. Set during the beginning of the season where the debutantes go into society to look for their suitors, the first season is all about Daphne, the oldest daughter of the Bridgerton family as she enters into society and navigates her way through everyone’s different opinions before hatching a plan with the newly arrived Duke Hastings who wants to craft a fake connection with her to avoid having to deal with other mothers of available daughters as he doesn’t want to marry while creating the smoke screen for Daphne that will make other men desire her more because of already being desired. Of course, its no doubt that Daphne and Duke Hastings form a real connection eventually and it becomes quite the push and pull relationship, full of drama and soapy elements as well as the many sex and intimate scenes going on.

Bridgerton is thoroughly a guilty pleasure. There’s no other way to put it. Its not exactly untapped territory especially for myself that watches a ton of Chinese dramas which revolve around crafting fake relationships that turn into real connections and so on so forth. What makes Bridgerton fun is of course the Regency London era with its beautiful houses and lovely clothes and the very innocent and protected debutantes who are protected from everything about sex and intimacy. At the same time, the world that its crafted is a racially integrated Regency era London where (according to Wikipedia because I haven’t read the source material) it differs from the book’s setting. However, they do a great job and justifying how it all came to be briefly in conversation. The story itself definitely has those expected frustrating moments where the two misunderstand each other and then there’s some scheming that creates them to diverge in their feelings and its a whole roller coaster ride in terms of the few months of the season that Daphne and Duke Hastings go through.

Other than the setting, Bridgerton is all about the characters. For starters, the main couple Daphne and Duke Hastings has a ton of chemistry and that reflects well as their connection grows stronger and they love each other more. The sex scenes are done incredibly well and very believable. Above all of it though, its about Daphne’s sexual awakening and the gradual revelation and learning about how sex works and how getting pregnant works and all that comes together that crafts her character in a certain way. Aside from these two, the story does also deliver some other great characters. The favorite going to Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) who is Duke Hastings aka Simon’s mentor. Hands down the best character in the whole first season. The first season also laid down the foundation of the Bridgerton family whether its their widowed mother Violet or the three brothers, Anthony, Benedict, Colin and Gregory or the younger sisters Eloise, Francesca and Hyacinth who all make an appearance, big or small. Seeing as the following seasons will be about the other members of the family, that foundation is rather important plus the first season also follows some of the relationships and character development for a few of the siblings especially for Anthony, Benedict, Eloise and Colin.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the 10 episodes of the first season of Bridgerton. For those who like Regency era London settings, this one is a pretty decent choice. The first season’s most compelling parts are the scenes that build up the relationship between Daphne and Simon. The slow connection and the comfort; the change from disapproval to love; the fake relationship to real; what they teach other and grow together: it has its frustrating moments but then it also has some well-crafted moments. The second compelling element has to be trying to figure out who is Lady Whistledown especially when she’s voiced by Julie Andrews. When I finished watching it the first time, I had some mixed feelings about it but when I watched it a second time around, I realized that there is something there that does work.

As an aside, Season 2 has been confirmed and its going to follow the brother Anthony who had his tangent in season 1 although, I was rather lukewarm to the whole thing. However, the season ended hinting that it would be focused on him finding a wife so we will see where that goes. In the meantime, I’m going to catch up with the series when I have a moment see how the series match up to the source material.

TV Binge: The Uncanny Counter (Season 1, 2020)

The Uncanny Counter (Season 1, 2020)

Cast: Byeong-kyu cho, Jun-Sang Yu, Se-Jeong Kim, Hye-ran Yeom, Seok-hwan Ahn, Hong Nae Lee, Sook Moon, Kwang-il Choi

Noodle shop employees by day and demon hunters by night, the Counters use special abilities to chase down malevolent spirits that prey on humans. – IMDB

Watch on: Netflix

Its been a while since I’ve seen any Korean series. The last series I watched was probably some romantic drama in early 2000s, whenever the Korean series phase hit with Autumn Sonata and then I watched the Korean remake of Meteor Garden which in my opinion is the worst remake of all of them made so far so that was equally not very appealing so consider me a little hesitant about Korean series. The Uncanny Counter gets a whole new perspective though because its not a romantic drama and its an action comedy about a ragtag team of demon hunters called Counters who with their special abilities hunt down evil spirits embedded in humans to send them and the souls their trapped to Yung, which I assume is something like a gateway to afterlife whether to Heaven or Hell. As the team starts hunting down, they end up reaching one case to the next that links to their own past and want to investigate and chase down the truth behind what happened as the danger level increases as they encounter the rarely seen highest level of evil spirits.

The Uncanny Counter does a great job because of its balance between the tones. Even in its most dangerous scenes, it manages to give time for the characters to still have their personality show which adds in some humor and vice versa. The story itself has a lot of funny little moments especially with the new addition of So Mun (Byeong-kyu Cho), an eighteen year old high school student which gets pulled into this unexpectedly. The progression and pacing of the story over the 16 episode season is pretty decent as well. The story starts off with the basics and slowly draws connections to Ga Mo-Tak (Jun-sang Yu), who has amnesia from his accident to So Mun’s past. The investigation spirals into something more complex pulling in supernatural elements along with politics and crime. It gets rather intriguing as the Counters characters have more depth throughout and their characters start to connect whether its Ms. Chu’s motherly care for everyone and her touching backstory or Ha-na’s slowly warming up to So Mun as her abilities prevents her from wanting others to be in contact with her physically. These four deliver some great moments together and their chemistry and balance is their characters’ personality develops rather well also. The team actually has one more member who is the monetary sponsor for their operation who is also a Counter but mostly not on the field who is a rich man with a big corporation called Jang-mul (Seok-hwan Ahn) who is a whacky character and brings a ton of laughs whenever he appears.

Talking about the characters, the show has a good deal of them. Whether its the criminal and bad guys involved especially in the second half when its focused on investigating the past of Mo-Tak or the other people involved from So Mun’s grandparents and his best friends, they all have their own place. Especially in terms of So Mun’s best friends, Woong-min (Eun-soo Kim) and Joo-yeon Im (Ji-won Lee) who are truly supporting characters but makes everyone wish that they had friends like those. Plus, they have some hilarious dramatic moments. At the same time, the bad guys are pretty great especially in the depth of how it goes behind the dirty doings and how the evil spirit hides in one of them and that story arc really gets taken for a crazy ride. I do have to say that while the evil spirit being pulled out of the body is meant to be scary, a lot of times, its rather goofy except for a few times especially when with the higher level evil spirit that gets revealed and the body it has taken over. Some of it is a little over the top but still, there are some unpredictable paths that it takes.

Overall, The Uncanny Counter is a great South Korean series. Its a lot of fun and a ton of good action sequences. The characters are done really well and the whole story is rather unique. The series is based on a webtoon called Amazing Rumor by Jang Yi and according to MyDramaList is set for Season 2 expected to release in 2022 which should be awesome and definitely looking forward to that if that is true. The show was a blast even if it only released 2 episodes per week on Netflix. Its done now so if you haven’t seen it now, you can binge through it as quickly or slowly as you want.

Double Feature: Work It (2020) & The Prom (2020)

Today’s double feature is a rather musical pairing and both are Netflix films released in 2020. The first is a dance film called Work It and the second is the recently released musical The Prom. Let’s check it out!

Work It (2020)

Director: Laura Terruso

Cast: Sabrina Carpenter, Jordan Fisher, Kalliane Bremault, Briana Andrade-Gomes, Liza Koshy, Julliard Pembroke, Michelle Buteau, Drew Ray Tanner, Sabrina Snieckus

When Quinn Ackerman’s admission to the college of her dreams depends on her performance at a dance competition, she forms a ragtag group of dancers to take on the best squad in school…now she just needs to learn how to dance. – IMDB

Work It is mostly a dance film and yet its a comedy about a girl with perfect grades who realize that its not enough to get into college and as an extracurricular decides to go to her best friend’s dance troupe which doesn’t take her so she tries to put together her own group of misfits. The group itself has all different styles of dance and yet the biggest problem is that she can’t dance and needs to start from zero and its zero like finding her music flow and rhythm. That is the comedy part.

With any of these films, you need to throw in a little romantic flare and that’s when Quinn and Jake come into a picture: a girl who can’t dance and a renowned dancer that disappeared off the dance competition circuit after an injury. Its hard to talk about Work It without criticizing its issues but then that is usually the case for dance films, much like Step Up franchise, and yet, Step Up is one that I can see the flaws and still like it for exactly what it is. The same applies for Work It, except it suffers from coming later than a wave of better executed films. What is good is that it adds in those comedy moments and changes the vibe of the film a little. Simply put, its a lot of the same when it comes to these sorts of movies and it is fairly predictable especially when there doesn’t even feel like there’s a lot of dance sequences.

Other predictability, the execution is fairly unbalanced. The movie seems to want to do everything so its structured to go through the motions. Starting off with the characters and then what they need to achieve, the tear in the friendship and struggle to get their act together and then the big win at the end. Other than that, it adds in a little unpolished romantic flare here and then some bad dancing from Sabrina Carpenter’s character to her finally getting it. While the cast itself does what they need to do whether its Sabrina Carpenter or Jordan Fisher and even the sassy other team’s leader Julliard Pembroke, played by Keiynan Lonsdale or the best friend Jasmine, played by Liza Koshy, the script itself does have some lacking moments as well.

Work It is one of those films that is really for the soundtrack or some light entertainment. Its not meant to be reviewed in depth. Its a simple movie and a familiar sort of dance movie storyline. While I did have some cons more than pros, I do enjoy dance films so this one is just some harmless entertainment that you can leave for a rainy day keeping in mind that you do enjoy dance movies. If you don’t, then this one won’t do anything for you.

The Prom (2020)

Director: Ryan Murphy

Cast: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key, Jo Ellen Pellman, Ariana DeBose, Andrew Rannells

A troupe of hilariously self-obsessed theater stars swarm into a small conservative Indiana town in support of a high school girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom. – IMDB

Looking at the cast, The Prom is absolutely star studded with some big names and most of them, I do quite enjoy so the movie popped onto Netflix and I didn’t know about it in advance but I saw those stars, that it was a musical and it was an immediate play. Adapted from a Broadway musical of the same name, The Prom does come at a good time when the world is talking about LGBT rights a lot. I haven’t heard of The Prom before but at first glance, The Prom’s story almost feels like Footloose where that one is about not being allowed to dance, The Prom is about the PTA trying to stop one of the students to take her girlfriend to prom and wanting to cancel prom altogether. In the face of this serious matter, a bunch of theater stars comes in to try to fight for a cause to help themselves get back some positive press. Its hard to determine whether the journey for the film is for the girl, Emma or the troupe as both of them do have their moments of growth.

Being a fan of musical films, The Prom is the type of movie that I’d like and it is quite enjoyable. Most of the stars here have been part of musicals before so the talent is there. Perhaps what stands out more is some of the awkward moments between characters. It definitely is scripted to be awkward and was delivered pretty well. The Prom has a decent storyline even if sometimes the events feel slightly disjointed like its being pushed along so its forced to progress faster. What makes this film shine is truly some of the stars here delivering some great performances. Other than Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, they are joined by Andrew Rannells as this performer that’s wants to hang with them and adds comedy. There’s a lot of characters so its hard to say whether anyone had enough time for their characters to develop enough but Kerry Washington’s parent character against the whole prom situation and Keegan-Michael Key’s principal character were also done really well. In all honestly, the younger characters also did fairly well and Emma’s character is a much quieter one despite the unfair situation that she’s part of.

The Prom is an alright musical. Everyone does a good job and the story is pretty nice as well as how the characters develop throughout. It is structured well and the scenes are executed pretty good as well. Where I have issues with it is that it feels like it lacks the uniqueness to make it more memorable. None of the songs stuck in my head even if they were rather fun to listen and watch the choreography/performances in the moment. I know that I had fun watching it the first time and yet, it doesn’t make me want to go back to watch it a second time and yet, I can’t quite pinpoint where its lacking as everything seems to done good, just put together, it seems to not quite get that excitement of a musical for myself.